Best cheap eats in Manchester
There are a few places serving ‘rice and three’ (a hefty portion of rice teamed with no less than three curries on the side starting at £4.50) in the city. But the original and best is here, a no-frills café tucked down a dingy side street.
The dishes at this lovely little Vietnamese place are authentic and refreshingly light on oil, made with beautifully fresh ingredients. Our tip? It serves the most delicious spring rolls in Manchester, and the beef pho (£7.50) is a must-try.
Forget the chains doing watered-down Caribbean cuisine: head to this backstreet takeaway. All the staples are on offer, but the curried goat and fiery jerk chicken (£7.50) are unbeatable, served with the best rice and peas in the city.
This elegant noodle bar is owned by the Japan Centre’s CEO Tak Tokumine, and Manchester secured the first branch outside London in late 2016. The house special is tonkotsu: a slow cooked pork broth with barbecue pork belly, egg, mushrooms, sesame, ginger and nori seaweed. Extras include fried shallots, caramelised black garlic, kimchi and seafood. The house gyoza and moreish wagyu steak buns are musts as well.
Kate Wilson and Jim Morgan (previously of Honest Crust) know a thing or two about pizza. They've been involved in pop-ups and events previously but then set up their own permanent site in an area of the city known at one time as Little Italy, and now as Ancoats.
It’s safe to say expectations are low when you have to enter a restaurant via a metal staircase in a takeaway that’s surrounded by tens of nightclubs and bars. While Ethiopian restaurant Habesha certainly is a little rustic, once you’ve grabbed yourself a bottle of St George (an Ethiopian beer), you’ll soon forget about the precarious entrance. The richly spiced stews (meat or veg) served on gluten-free injera bread are a must.
While the atmosphere inside is perfectly acceptable, it’s obvious that ambience has never been the number one concern here: lighting seems to vary from extremely low level one night to almost blinding the next and wall decorations are at their most simple and stereotypical. However, as is often the case, this is a reassuring scenario, leaving the steaming bowls of Vietnamese pho (soup noodles) a focus.
Eating at Kabana is a euphoric experience. The day you choose to visit will impact the authentic curries available to you. The chicken masala and lamb karahi (on or off the bone) are excellent, reliable options – the latter is thick and coriander-heavy with a freshness you may not expect from a dish that requires lengthy cooking. Spiced yoghurt marinated lamb chops and samosas are great, too.
There are two branches of Panchos to choose from: one in the Arndale Food Market and one just off Oxford Road, near Manchester Metropolitan University. Regardless of which you visit, the food is consistent, tasty and offers good value for money. A rare taste of authentic Mexican fare in Manchester.
Love a hidden gem? You don’t get much more off the beaten track than this authentic Thai diner in a Chinatown supermarket. Highlights include a bright purple fish ball stew, eye-wateringly hot papaya salad and black rice pudding, baked to sticky perfection in banana leaves.
You know you’ve reached Barbakan when you catch a whiff of fried onions or spot a queue that snakes down the steps and onto the street. Fortunately, their outdoor sausage sellers (Saturdays only) are efficient and you won’t be waiting long: the bratwurst is a solid favourite and there are around ten chutneys and mustards to choose from (the sauces are self-service too: go crazy!). Treats to take away include freshly baked breads, coffee and house croissant, gourmet quiches and bacon baps.
Many Brits grew up eating toasted cheese sandwiches in front of the TV, and Northern Soul make the city’s best. Choose from extras like beef patties, bacon and house pickles, or go back to basics with the three-cheese house blend. Lampshades made from cheese graters and wooden decking warm this semi-outdoor stall, just opposite the Arndale Food Market.
This independent bakery opened in the up-and-coming suburb of Levenshulme five years ago and demand for their varied selection of breads has been on the rise, so to speak, ever since. The café bar and restaurant space was expanded in late 2016, adding opening hours as well. The brunch and bread menus are now joined by restaurant-style creations such as tempura leeks with crab mayo, marmalade croissant bread and butter pudding in addition to a bijou cocktail, craft beer and wine list.
The best thing about this kebab shop is that you don’t need to be hammered to enjoy the grub they’re dishing out. While there’s a table service restaurant hidden at the back, most don’t get further than the takeout counter at the front. This is where you’ll get value for money: food that’s tastier eaten off your lap or whilst walking home than it is on a plate with a knife and fork.
Away from the Curry Mile, Manchester offers several decent Indian restaurants, where service is efficient and friendly and where the wine list goes beyond the usual house stuff. Akbar’s is one such place. The slow-cooked lamb nehari is a must while adventurous diners will be delighted by authentic takes on tripe brain and sheep’s trotters.
Those who turn up to Earth expecting greasy pizzas and fried chicken really need a good lesson in symbolism. Serving vegetarian food that harks back to an era of baggy pants and patchouli oil, tuck into tomato and chickpea sweet, burgers and mixed salad or grains. Pop upstairs for a yoga or mediation class in this beautiful, hand-built space that’s part of the Northern Quarter’s Buddhist Centre.
Close to the Four Banks intersection in Chorlton, a suburban area of south Manchester known for its bars and cafés, this Middle Eastern family-run restaurant provides good value food, ideal for groups of friends or a midweek bite to eat.
There are plenty of Thai and Malaysian restaurants to choose from in Manchester, some headed up by celebrity chefs, others located in swanky million pound buildings (Vermillion) or in high profile locations like King Street (Chaophraya). One that has none of those things but consistently delivers good food is straight up, authentic Thai restaurant Phetpailin. The steamed, whole sea bass is a treat.
Ten years ago, the closest most Manchester students got to Japanese cuisine was a Pot Noodle, but the arrival of cafeteria-style noodle bars such as Umami has secured the presence of pan-Asian casual eateries as a mainstay in most university towns. Options include fresh sushi, soup noodles and salt and pepper tofu.
Popular with everyone from students to Olympic athletes, Viet Shack’s self-styled healthy Vietnamese street food comes with a modern twist. With counter service and seating shared with the rest of the Arndale Food Market's customers, it's set up perfectly for a quick, cheap lunch. That said, this isn't food that you'll necessarily want to rush.
Looking for a more traditional dinner setting?
Manchester’s culinary scene went under the radar for a long time – maybe better known for the steadfast Bury black pudding or a rice ‘n’ three – but, after a huge boom in indie eateries and a peppering of top chains, the best restaurants in Manchester have been catapulted onto the global stage, offering a diverse and creative range of menus.